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Gayle Woloschak Addresses the Crisis Plenary

Gayle Woloschak addressed the Crisis Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good afternoon everybody and thank you for sort of sticking with us for the duration of this program. I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to the Parliament of World’s Religions about the Global Ethic Committee’s first directive and in particular to talk about the situation in Ukraine.

I am a Ukrainian American and a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. My cousin from Ukraine is currently a refugee in my home and I house a refugee from Ukraine as a postdoctoral fellow in my research lab. We each hear daily of the atrocities that Putin is carrying out in Ukraine, the bombings, the butchering of people in Butcha and elsewhere, the forced deportation of children and civilians, the sexual violence, and so much more. And while the photo and video images that come across our screens almost daily influence us, it is sometimes contact with persons that have experienced the war in Ukraine that help us understand it best.

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach a theology class in Volvosk, Greece. It was offered for students from Ukraine. They were young clergy who were trying to understand theology better, and I particularly talked to them about some of the more modern innovations that are going on. Over the days, when I was there, I got to know them well, and of course we talked about their lives and how they had changed because of the war. Every one of them had lost family and friends to the war. In some cases, a brother, and in other cases, a father, they lost cousins. Everybody had lost numerous friends. Well, they were generally positive about life in general. When they spoke of their losses, they clearly felt them deeply, and some wept as they talked about them. 

In Ukraine, there are two Ukrainian Orthodox churches. I don’t want to get into the politics there, but one church is independent of the Russian Orthodox Church, the other is under the Russian Patriarch and is supportive of Putin’s policies in Ukraine. These groups have argued about church property, alliances, and much more. In this group of twelve scholars, three were from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is under the Russian Patriarchate. The others were independent of Russia. 

What I found most interesting was how they got along well with each other, and how they were blinded to the political alliances of their respective churches. Perhaps I could wish for that more here in the US. They had driven from Ukraine to Greece together in a minibus. They shared their stories and time on the road together and had become friends. This friendship occurred despite everything, and to me I found it very comforting. But what was most uncomfortable to me was the great anger they all university felt toward Russia.

It made me realize that the damage done by this war is not just physical, but is in the hearts and souls of Ukrainians who once loved and trusted their Russian brothers and sisters and others. And probably for the remainder of their lives, they will see them as the enemy. This will live for many generations as a long-lasting legacy to this war. 

As we reflect upon the first directive’s words, “All people have the right to life, safety, and the free development of personality insofar as they do not injure the rights of others.” We think about the fact that war begets war, hatred begets hatred. This cycle is hard to stop. Let us as people of the parliament of world religions not forget the power of prayer and spiritual healing.

As we gather here, let us take a moment to pray for the people of Ukraine. to pray for healing, strength, and hope in these troubled times. Our prayers can transcend borders and inspire positive change.

In Ukraine, there is a national salute that is used to express solidarity against aggression. That salute is “Slava Ukraini, Glory to Ukraine.” And the answer back is “Heroim Slava, Heroes Have the Glory.” With that I’ll end, and I ask for your prayers for Ukraine. Thank you.

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